Transfer of priest won't go through
E-mails fly after word that man with arrest history would arrive
By TOM HEINEN
Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2002
After outcry from
concerned Catholics, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has rethought plans to
assign a priest who has a history of being arrested for homosexual conduct
with adults to a Hartford church.
Had his transfer to
St. Kilian parish gone through, it would have marked the third time Father
Thomas Walker was sent into a situation where Catholics who described
themselves and their parish as traditional or orthodox had challenged the
closing of their parish.
Rembert G. Weakland had approved the first two assignments.
The priest's latest
reassignment would have occurred under the watch of newly installed
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who is more traditional in many devotional
and theological matters than the liberal Weakland was.
Richard J. Sklba decided this summer that Walker was suitable for
reassignment, said archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski. The
nine-member College of Consultors, priests who advise the archbishop, made
that recommendation, he added.
At the time, Dolan
had not yet been installed as the new archbishop. Sklba was serving as
administrator of the archdiocese because Weakland had retired amid news
reports that the archdiocese had paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who
claimed Weakland had sexually assaulted him nearly 20 years earlier.
It was not clear
Friday if Dolan was aware of plans to reassign Walker to St. Kilian, but
merger opponents said information about Walker's background was handed to
Dolan during one of his public appearances in October.
E-mail messages and
telephone calls began rippling through parts of the archdiocese earlier
this week after people learned of the priest's impending transfer in a
bulletin announcement at Nativity of the Lord Parish in Cudahy.
"I have to say I was
really shocked and disappointed that they would send a man out here who's
been in that kind of trouble," said Paul Quick, 79, a lifelong member of
St. Kilian whose grandparents and parents are buried in the church's old
"I believe that our
parish and our community here deserves better than this . . . What we need
out here is an experienced pastor who's interested in our parish and
No announcement was
made at St. Kilian. The announcement in Nativity's bulletin said simply
that Walker, Nativity's associate pastor, would be transferred on Jan. 12
to St. Kilian because St. Kilian's pastor was going on a six-month
Friday evening that a decision to send Walker to St. Kilian as temporary
administrator was never finalized and that Walker, not Nativity's pastor,
had placed the notice in the bulletin.
"It was premature,"
Topczewski said of the announced transfer. "That is not the case . . . The
assignment was not finalized."
that the change was not a "reversed decision," but he acknowledged that
"We've also received a number of calls and e-mails that I'm sure has also
contributed to concerns about the assignment, and so the assignment was
parishioners at St. Kilian are expected to be told this weekend that
Father David Verhasselt, pastor of St. Catherine Church in Oconomowoc,
will also serve as temporary administrator of St. Kilian during its
pastor's sabbatical, Topczewski said. Two retired priests will handle
Masses and other pastoral duties at St. Kilian.
Walker, who also is
assigned part time to serve retired and ill priests, will await
reassignment as Dolan and other officials determine how to assign priests
who have such backgrounds, Topczewski said.
Quick was pleased
when a reporter gave him the news about Verhasselt and the retired priests
Friday night. He was hopeful that the retired priests would reinstate some
Masses at the former St. Patrick Church in the Town of Erin, which was
closed in a merger with St. Kilian about two years ago.
Dolan has said he
would not reverse the archdiocese's earlier merger decisions but that
would not affect use of the former St. Patrick Church as a chapel.
"My question is,
'Why is he still a priest?,' " said Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel, a
leader of merger opponents from St. Patrick. "What do you have to do to be
removed from the priesthood? The average person can't understand the
thinking of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
"And I think, you
remember Pee Wee Herman. My kids loved Pee Wee Herman. Even Hollywood
could figure out that Pee Wee Herman's career was over when he got caught
in the movie theater with his pants down."
Circuit Court records show that Walker, 57, pleaded no contest in February
2000 to soliciting a male undercover police officer for a sex act and paid
$1,007 in fines and court costs. The offense occurred Nov. 8, 1999,
outside 215 W. Oregon St.
Walker also paid a
$265 forfeiture of a disorderly conduct citation he received on June 23,
1989 - barely one month after his ordination - for his actions in the
Underwood Parkway in Wauwatosa, according to Wauwatosa police.
newspaper at the time reported that the offense was for indecent activity.
Police periodically have cracked down on homosexual solicitation and
related activity in the parkway.
Walker could not be
reached for comment Friday.
More than 40
parishes in the 10-county archdiocese have been closed in the past five
years because of priest shortages and population shifts. But St. Patrick
was one of three parishes where dissident members challenged the mergers
by appealing to the Vatican.
Another one was St.
Joseph parish in Cudahy, which merged with St. Frederick and Holy Family
parishes in Cudahy to form Nativity of the Lord Parish.
Controversy arose at
Nativity when Walker was assigned to that parish in the summer of 2000 as
it was being formed. A letter was read at parish Sunday Masses in
mid-January 2001 in which Weakland said Walker had received treatment,
with ongoing therapy, and posed no threat to the community or to children.
The third parish was
the St. Casimir Parish in Kenosha, which was merged with St. George Parish
to form St. Elizabeth Parish in Kenosha. Walker was assigned there during
the merger process, before a challenge was filed with the Vatican.
All three parishes
lost their challenges at lower levels in the Vatican. The full Apostolic
Signatura, the top Vatican court, is scheduled to hear their appeal,
possibly as soon as today.
A version of this
story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 30, 2002